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BILL PLASCHKE

Pete Carroll takes the blame for USC's loss, as well he should

The Trojans coach says, "It goes right on me," after a stunning 16-13 loss to the Washington Huskies.

September 20, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

FROM SEATTLE — This one's on Pete.

The USC players trudged away with shoulders hunched against a chilly wind and obscene screams, but it wasn't about them.

The Washington players and fans filled the field with twirling, bouncing, purple-stained glee, but it also wasn't about them.

This one's on Pete.

For several long minutes after USC's 16-13 loss to Washington on Saturday, Trojans Coach Pete Carroll stood at the edge of the Husky Stadium tunnel, staring ashen-faced back into the swarming mob as if peering into the smoking wreckage of a car he totaled.

Which he did. A luxury car. Smashed it to bits.

"It goes right to me," he said later.

Best call he made all day.

"I'm not doing a good enough job making points on how we win," he said.

Not nearly.

"It starts right with me and this is where it stops, right here," he said.

Preaching to the choir.

After another one of those avoidable upset losses that now threaten to overtake his sparkling resume like a giant mustard stain, Carroll's accountability was admirable.

Everything else he did -- or didn't do -- plain stunk.

The Trojans lost to a 21-point underdog after leading by 10 points after two possessions.

The Trojans lost to a team with a rookie head coach that had just finished losing 15 straight games.

The Trojans lost their focus, their common sense and their cool in a game that seemed to strip Carroll of even his suntan.

"It's amazing, just amazing," said Huskies linebacker Donald Butler.

Don't blame this on the fact that USC was playing without starting quarterback Matt Barkley, because it still out-gained Washington.

Don't blame this on a defense that was missing star Taylor Mays, because it still held Washington to barely 200 yards before its final drive.

Like the man said, blame it on Pete. It has been written here for several years that Carroll is the best coach in college football, but for several hours Saturday he was inexplicably out-coached by a former pupil, Steve Sarkisian, while allowing his team to be outplayed by a former national joke.

Just two weeks ago, Washington had the nation's worst losing streak. Today, that title belongs to the man who has at least one national-title costing egg laid per season in each of the last four years, from UCLA to Stanford to Oregon State to this.

This was bad. This was really bad.

This was an unprepared USC team racking up nearly as many penalty yards (75) as passing yards (110), with three times as many turnovers as touchdowns, with zero third-down conversions in 10 attempts, and with no clue during a possible game-changing drive.

End of the first half, Trojans on the Washington 29-yard line, less than 20 seconds left, no timeouts, and what do they do?

They run the ball. They run the ball? Stanley Havili is tackled for a loss, the clock keeps ticking, and a 47-yard field-goal attempt occurs after time expires.

The kick, by the way, was good.

"It was hard to get that done in that time frame," said Carroll, shaking his head.

It was just one horrible call in a game full of them.

Offensively, the lack of confidence shown backup quarterback Aaron Corp by the Barkley-enamored coaching staff allowed the Huskies to load up the defensive line and finally stop a Trojans attack that gained 111 yards on the first two possessions.

When asked when he was told he was starting, Corp said, "They never really did."

Carroll is famous for tapping into the collegian psyche and endorsing each week's starting quarterback as the team leader, but he never really told the kid he was even starting?

Corp played as tentatively as the expectations, forcing passes that were uncharacteristic of the guy who won this job last spring.

Just as tentative was the defense, particularly a linebacker group that has struggled to replace last year's future pros.

Witness the Huskies' game-winning drive, when Jake Locker beat the Trojans with two long passes on plays that were either broken or drawn up on the sidelines.

"Hard work beats athleticism any day," said Joe McKnight, who ran great but who also, again, fumbled, this time maybe costing the Trojans a touchdown at the end of a long run, USC eventually settling for a field goal.

Oh, yeah, Stafon Johnson and Stanley Havili lost fumbles deep in Washington territory, the same place Corp threw an interception.

"This was all my fault," said Johnson, who will have to stand in line.

Hard work beats Hollywood too, and the Trojans were all that, playing up to the ugliest of stereotypes, the image that never bothers Carroll as long as they win.

It should bother him now.

In the second quarter, a Washington field-goal drive was kept alive by a late hit on Locker by Everson Griffen, one of several cheap-shot penalties that hurt the Trojans.

Then there was this behavior on one of the game's final plays, when the Trojans' Luthur Brown tackled Chris Polk after a four-yard run, then jumped up and danced around as if he had just won a heavyweight fight.

Somebody should have reminded him that the Huskies had just stuffed the ball 65 yards down USC's throat. On the next play, Erik Folk kicked a 22-yard, game-winning field goal.

"Right now, we've got a long way to go," Carroll said.

The path got longer afterward, when several USC players were seen loudly examining stat sheets in the locker room, never a good sign after a team loss.

I asked Havili what he was feeling, and McKnight became angry.

"No disrespect intended, but what kind of question is that?" he said. "We just lost a game, how do you think we feel?"

We know how Carroll feels, which is exactly how he should feel.

Everyone else, I guess we'll find out.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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